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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Model on Bench

Sylvia on a park bench, summer 2007. Aside from chopping her right arm off, I quite like this photo. Feels fashion-like.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Preview of Hell

Sometime back in the summer of 1973, I bought The Brave and the Bold #108, Batman's long-running team-up comic. Sgt. Rock was this issue's guest star, in which writer Bob Haney and artist Jim Aparo spin an atmospheric, creepy tale of deals with the devil and an enduring, ultimate evil.

Always favouring dramatic impact over subtlety, Haney's story - "The Night Batman Sold His Soul!" - finds Batman and Sgt. Rock crossing paths chasing a cloaked figure whom Rock believes is none other than Hitler himself, having faked his own death at war's end, gathering his forces to begin another campaign of terror. Batman, meanwhile, is plagued by the same figure, who has laid claim to Batman's soul. (In an act of desperation that opens the story, Batman in a fit of outraged frustration carelessly says he'd give his soul to escape a trap to save a young boy.)

Eventually Batman, Rock and Easy Company track their quarry to an underground lair, shown above. The last panel left an enduring impression upon my young mind. What could be more chilling than a cave full of Nazis, with their leader - perhaps a still-living Hitler, perhaps Satan himself - lurking in the shadows, ready to wreak terror upon the world once more?

The story ends on an ambiguous note, with the Nazi lair destroyed by the villain - whether Hitler or devil - escaping in the mayhem, leaving Rock and Batman wondering who or what they were chasing. Spooky.

It's interesting to note that Batman and Sgt. Rock teamed up several times in the late sixties and early seventies, several times explicitly showing that Bruce Wayne fought alongside Rock during World War II. And yet while Rock appears to be in his sixties or seventies in the "present-day" portions of these comics, Wayne hasn't aged at all - he looks about 29 in the forties, and about 29 in the sixties/seventies. And yet Rock doesn't note that Wayne hasn't grown a day older despite the passage of decades...hmm. Maybe Wayne made a deal with the devil after all...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Crossing the Floor: Postscript

Last week I shared my thoughts on Bridget Pastoor's floor-crossing from the Official Opposition to the government benches. Since then I've considered the issue a little more, and it occurs to me that there's another aspect of the whole affair that bothers me even more than the issues I outlined before: the question of playing fair.

After the last election, the collective opposition was reduced to just eleven MLAs: nine Alberta Liberals and two New Democrats. Since then resignations, by-elections and floor-crossings have changed the balance of power slightly; there are now eight Liberals, two New Democrats, four Wildrose Alliance members and one Alberta Party member. That still leaves the government with a huge numerical advantage; they could lose twenty seats and still hold on to their majority.

And yet despite this huge advantage (earned, in our first-past-the-post system, by securing barely more than fifty percent of the vote in the last election), the government still feels it necessary to woo opposition MLAs to their side.

This strikes me as dirty pool. The government doesn't need Bridget Pastoor to carry out its business, yet they cajoled her into crossing the floor anyway, for no other purpose than political gain and to hurt the opposition. It makes you wonder how far they'd go to destroy their political enemies.

Each MLA a caucus loses costs that caucus tens of thousands of dollars in funding - funding that's used to represent Albertans, to hold the ruling party accountable. A tiny opposition can do little to challenge the government if they don't have enough money to do their job.

The Progressive Conservative government clearly considers the Liberals enough of a threat that they feel like they have to use every trick in the book to keep the Official Opposition down. It's like they can't stand the idea of losing, that they'll do anything it takes to stay in power.

From one point of view, I suppose that's understandable. No one likes to lose. Losing means you and your friends lose your job and you have to go and find something else to do. It also means that maybe the province won't be run exactly the way you wanted for a few years.

But is that really the worst thing in the world? Are the Tories so afraid of losing that they don't see the benefits of changing governments every once in a while? Are they that selfish? Do they really find other political points of view so repellent that they recoil in horror at the thought of someone else taking power for a measly four years? Heck, I can't stand Stephen Harper but I don't think the federal Liberals were entitled to stay in power forever, either. If we're lucky, change will bring renewal eventually.

No one likes to lose, but if I were working for government I think I'd have enough humility and enough of a sense of fairness to say, "Hey. Let's play fair. We're strong enough to win without resorting to petty tricks. We have the best ideas, we're the best managers. We're not afraid of the opposition. And if the voters kick us out, well, we'll be back in four years stronger than ever."

Wouldn't the province - the country - be healthier if we acknowledged that winning all the time doesn't exactly build character? Sometimes we need to lose. Sometimes losing leads to greater wisdom and compassion. Losing builds empathy and helps us identify our weaknesses.

When a party becomes so afraid of losing that they're willing to play dirty, maybe it's time to get out of the game - so that the game itself can continue to prosper.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Popcorn Waterfall

I've always been fascinated by the photographic effects made possible by long exposure times. While this image I shot in 2007 is no masterpiece, I think it turned out pretty well for having been shot with a cheap point-and-shoot Pentax.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Daft in the Rafters

Many years ago Mom and Dad renovated our house's basement, but they never got around to finishing the ceiling. As a result, the rafters were exposed, as seen above in a dramatic recreation of Sean's unfortunate experimentation with those rafters.

One day, Sean decided that rather than descending the stairs normally, he would swing dramatically from the rafters, Errol Flynn style, landing catlike upon his feet. Unfortunately the rafter snapped under his weight, sending him plummeting spine-first on the rock-hard edge of the stairs, his feet landing squarely in the kitty litter*. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth and suppressed laughter from his slapstick-loving older brother.

*Sean's feet did not actually land in the kitty litter; he just missed. But it makes a better story if his feet land in the kitty litter, so that's the way it happened in the deluded corners of my mind.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Edith and James in the Rain

Over at JSVB, my friend Jeff has a tradition he calls "Ungood Art Day." Here is some ungood photography I shot back in 2006. I wanted to evoke the tragedy of the doomed love between James Kirk and Edith Keeler by placing their action figures in the rain. But my mini-studio consisted of the kitchen sink, and so instead of the sublime we get the ridiculous. It almost looks as though a prankster has dropped a water balloon on Edith's head, which might have injected a brief comic touch to an otherwise gloomy episode. I suppose Harlan wouldn't have approved, though.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Thrill of Collaboration

The first time a visual artist interpreted my written work occurred way back in high school, when Russell Wiesener illustrated the "Sever Heroes," superheroes I created based on our garage band personas. A few years later, Mike Gushue drew the "Earl's Amazing Mad Science Adventures" comic strip, which I scripted.

In each case I was delighted and fascinated by how other creative minds interpreted my words.  Each artist seemed to have a near-telepathic ability to capture the visions I'd imagined while adding their own distinctive stamp to the work, little details that turned my poor prose into something greater.

That's never been more true than of my friend Jeff Shyluk, who over the years has illustrated, using a variety of techniques, several of my comic strips, short stories and random ideas. His latest is called Woods Hole, based on the short story I submitted to CBC's Canada Writes competition. Jeff's vision doesn't exactly match my own, but that's not the point - I think he's improved on it with shadings and textures and, again, significant details that inform and reinterpret my original intent. I think it's marvellous, and I'm very moved that Jeff chose to do this. Frankly, I'm more excited by this than I would be if I had won the contest! I hope my readers will check it out at Jeff Shyluk's Visual Blog.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Batter Up

Conan, what is best in life?

To conquer your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to lick the chocolate chip cookie batter off the spoon.

This look in Sylvia's eyes occurs often when I'm photographing her.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When Branding Goes Too Far

A "Hostess Cup Cakes Scented Candle" spotted at an Edmonton dollar store in late 2006. I kid you not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Crossing the Floor

Today Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor crossed the floor, leaving the Official Opposition Liberals to join the Progressive Conservative government. Many Albertans are crying foul, arguing that as a matter of principle elected politicians who switch sides should step down so that a by-election can be called, or that the offending politician should at least sit as an independent. These folks argue that the people who live in the constituency elected a Liberal (or a Tory, or whoever), and that they should have a chance to vote on whether or not they approve of their elected representative's new choice of parties.

I can sympathize with that view, but floor-crossing is a longstanding tradition in the Westminster parliamentary system that allows elected officials a way to express immediate support or opposition to a particular party agenda. Ideally such a drastic move should be used only on urgent matters of principle, but of course floor-crossing is often opportunistic. In any event, constituents will have their opportunity to express their approval or disapproval come the next election. No system is perfect; that's democracy.

Personally, however, I'm disappointed in Bridget's choice. I don't believe you can change this particular 40-year-old government from within, as Bridget hopes; after so many years in power, the culture of entitlement is simply too entrenched. After 40 years, Alberta needs a new government, and I'd be saying that even if it were the Alberta Liberals who'd been in power so long. Every so often, the people need to clean house in a democracy, give new people and new ideas a try.

That being said, Bridget is a good person; I've worked with her for almost six years, writing speeches and articles and statements in her voice. (Heck, I spent several hours writing a major keynote speech for her just a few days ago, and don't think I didn't feel a moment of annoyance about that when I heard the news this morning.) I know she cares about seniors and disabled Albertans, and that she'll continue to do her best to represent the people of Lethbridge-East.

But I also hope that the voters of Lethbridge-East will recognize the need for a change in government and elect a new Alberta Liberal in Bridget's stead.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Everything Looks Worse in Black and White?

The composition of this photo is a little wonky, but I really like the shading and texture. This was shot on black and white film, with my mom and dad's old Canon T70, which still takes really great photos when I have a lucky accident. You can shoot black and white with digital, or simply by desaturating your images in Photoshop. But I still prefer the look and feel of black and white film. Digital black and white still leaves me cold, though I'm sure that in the future I won't be able to tell the difference. Heck, it's possible that I've already been fooled.

Why shoot a Captain Kirk action figure, a box of tissue and a framed engagement photo? I'm pretty sure I was just trying to finish off the roll.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Movember Reign

Or, "Movember Rain of Whiskers." Sometimes it's hard to choose a good title...

Sean's mustache continues to crawl steadily downward across his upper lip in the Movember march against prostate cancer. He's raised $700 so far! He's starting to look like the star of a '70's cop show. Visit Sean's donation page here

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Legend of the Santos

Today the Official Opposition bids farewell to John Santos, a political firebrand who served the Alberta Liberal Caucus in two roles: first as former leader David Swann's Executive Assistant, then as our Media Liaison. It was a real pleasure to see John excel in both roles; he has bundles of energy, enthusiasm and political horse sense, and during his entire tenure John gave nothing less than 110% to the organization.

I'll miss working with John - he's a man of ideals who understands the importance of promoting and, more importantly, living small-l liberal values. A scholar, athlete, audiophile, mountain climber and all-around good guy, I look forward to seeing what challenges John conquers next. And I'll continue to follow his blog, Santos Sez.

See you in the funny papers, John - I've enjoyed working with you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: 11/22/63

This review contains SPOILERS for Stephen King's latest novel, 11/22/63. Read no further if you have yet to read, or have interest in reading, this book.

Stephen King's latest novel, 11/22/63, is a suspenseful, melancholy fable that uses time travel to explore not merely a bygone era, but the evolution of culture, the ephemeral nature of love and happiness, and the struggles of those who live on the fringes of society. It's the most satisfying novel King has written in years.

The story's hook is simple: Jake Epping, a thirty-five year old high school teacher from Maine, is told by his friend Al that Al's diner contains a time portal to 1958. For years, Al has been using the time portal to buy fresh hamburger for his restaurant, earning huge profits with each burger sold (meat was much cheaper in the '50s). But Al begins to think that perhaps the portal could be used for a more noble purpose: to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. Unfortunately, Al comes down with lung cancer before he can complete the task, and asks Jake to continue the mission. Rocked by a recent divorce and compelled by the possibilities, Jake agrees.

Every writer approaches the rules of time travel differently. In this case, those rules are simple: stepping through the portal from 2011 to 1958 will always bring you to the exact time and place in 1958, not a second sooner or later. When you step through the portal in the opposite direction, from 1958 to 2011, only two minutes will have passed in 2011, no matter how much time you've spent in the past - whether it's five minutes or five years. In other words, if you need to do something in 1961 or '62 and you mess up, you can't just travel back to that point - you have to start all over again in 1958, growing older by living in the past while time crawls in 2011.

Despite these limitations and risks, Jake makes the leap into the past and explores the possibilities of time travel by righting a couple of local Maine wrongs: he saves a girl from being accidentally paralyzed and prevents an act of brutal domestic violence in Derry, a fictional Maine town King fans will remember from It and other King novels and stories. King tosses in a few easter eggs for said fans, including a short scene featuring a pair of important characters from It along with other surprises. King takes his time in getting to the actual assassination plot; Jake spends years in the past, setting up a new identity, building a new life for himself, investigating Lee Harvey Oswald's movements and connections (he wants to be absolutely sure Oswald was the only shooter) and even finding romance.

King's depiction of the late 50s and early 60s is rich, vividly painted and well-researched, nostalgic while recognizing the less appealing elements of that era, chiefly poverty and racism. Jake marvels at the rich flavour and texture of the era's food, enjoys the fresh air and lack of paperwork while suppressing his 21st century disgust at the prudishness, sexism and racism of the era. Jake finds a teaching gig in a Dallas suburb, splitting his time between teaching, a budding romance with the school librarian and stalking Lee Harvey Oswald. But the past isn't eager to be changed, and Epping finds that the fabric of history itself isn't on his - or Kennedy's - side...

Generally speaking, this is the best King novel in years, with excellent characterization, a compelling story and, for once, a satisfying ending, one of King's weaknesses at novel length. I am a little disappointed that King, here writing a science fiction tale rather than a horror story, still manages to fall into one of the more troubling tropes of the horror genre - punishing female characters for having sex. While the act makes sense within the context of the novel, it remains vexing. While King is a liberal, he's used to writing in a fundamentally conservative genre (horror), so some of those tropes are bound to seep into his other work, I suppose. It's the one true black mark on an otherwise superlative effort.

11/22/63 ends with a riveting moral conundrum for Jake, one that will leave readers wondering which choice they would have made in the protagonist's circumstances. Here again, though, the conservatism of the horror genre makes its impact felt in this nominally science-fictional work; it turns out that altering the past has apocalyptic consequences. Readers hoping for an in-depth exploration of what the world might have been like had JFK escaped his fate will be disappointed; what King gives us is interesting, but not nearly as detailed as alternate history buffs would have preferred. That isn't the story King wanted to tell. Despite its title, this isn't really a story about Kennedy or politics or even time travel; it's a story about finding your place in the world, dealing with loss and seizing whatever happiness you can in a hard, cold world. And on those terms, 11/22/63 is immensely satisfying.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Four-Colour Banter

Adventure Comics #446 is one of the oldest issues in my collection. Dated July-August 1976, I probably purchased it at the Leaf Rapids drug store a few months earlier, comic book cover dates always shifted somewhat into the future. Sadly, my copy's cover was ripped off many years ago.

In this scene, Aqualad, going undercover on a cruise ship to capture some diamond smugglers, is captured by a thug. As a six-or-seven year old I thought Aqualad's cool witticism was hilarious, but these days I find the goon's reply even funnier - perhaps because his dialogue's cadence matches Aqualad's quite nicely. Gun in the ear, bullet in the brain; there's a pleasing rhythm to it, and I think the thug deserves credit. And I love his sneer.
A few pages later Aquaman arrives to save his sidekick, tossing in a pop-culture reference that's already seeming dated, just a few years after Cousteau's death. One wonders how Cousteau's work may have differed in the DC universe, seeing as he would have had to contend with Aquaman, his underwater nation of Atlantis, the reality of telepathic contact between Atlantean humans and undersea creatures, super-villains like Black Manta (above), the Fisherman, King Shark, etc. One presumes Cousteau and Aquaman would have inevitably met at some point, but alas, it either never happened or I never stumbled across that particular story.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Into the Vortex

Inspired by yesterday's happy accident with the radial blur tool, this time I experimented a little more in a primitive attempt at visual storytelling. Using two different radial blurs and the glowing edges setting, I turned this unflattering portrait into a snapshot from an imaginary movie or TV show, as fictional Earl is sucked into a time-space vortex. I particularly like how the hand turned out - it gives the piece a real sense of motion.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cushion Blur

Some time ago, I shot this photo of an old sofa cushion being tossed into the Leduc landfill. I wanted to jazz the photo up a little and make some kind of pithy statement about pollution, but instead I accidentally created this interesting effect with the radial blur tool. I think it looks kinda neat.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Critical Hit

On the mean streets of Edmonton, one can never be too careful. In this file photo from 2006, Sean Woods wields a velvet bag full of polyhedral dice to fend off potential aggressors.

Come to think of it, if you were playing a role-playing game set in the modern world, you could, in a pinch and under the right circumstances, find yourself in a situation in which the handiest weapon happens to be a bagful of polyhedral dice. (You might, for example, be playing spies who have infiltrated a Dungeons & Dragons gaming group, only to have the group attacked by home invaders. There would be plenty of dice at hand.)

I would love to ask my game master "How much damage will I do if I hit the home invader with a bag of dice?"

Probably 1d3 at most. Oh well.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pop Culture Diorama

I don't do much decorating, but while sprucing up the theatre room I was inspired and crafted this display of pop culture ephemera. In the background are lobby cards for The Road Warrior, The Searchers, Enter the Dragon, How the West Was Won and The Wild Bunch, along with a pair of red-blue/green 3D glasses. Clockwise from the top the display includes a green toy soldier, a miniature replica of the Daily Planet building, Superman's cape, Tarzan's spear, Tarzan's chimp, Cheetah, holding Captain Kirk's phaser rifle (seen in only the second Star Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before"), poker chips from Fallout: New Vegas, Green Arrow's infamous handcuff arrow, Hawkman's mask resting upon J. Jonah Jameson's chair, Green Lantern's power battery, a tan toy soldier, and one of the USS Enterprise's shuttlecraft, specifically Shuttle 7, the Galileo.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Raj on Remembrance Day

Today Official Opposition Leader Raj Sherman released a statement to honour Canadian veterans: 

On this day, we bow our heads in silent gratitude for the sacrifices of our veterans. Since Confederation, thousands of Canadians have given their lives or suffered crippling physical and mental wounds to defend our great nation and its freedoms.

In the World Wars, Korea, Afghanistan and in peacekeeping missions around the globe, our veterans have served with great valour, laying down their lives to build a better, freer, more peaceful world. They have defeated tyrants, saved the helpless, and served as our greatest ambassadors to the peoples of the world.

No words or gestures can ever fully capture the magnitude of our debt to our veterans and the men and women currently serving in the armed forces. On behalf of the Official Opposition, it is with the deepest humility and respect that I offer our thanks to Canadian veterans and their families.

We will never forget.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Billions and Billions of Kudos for Dr. Carl Sagan

Yesterday would have been Carl Sagan's 77th birthday. My first exposure to Sagan came, as it did for so many others, through his PBS television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The show mesmerized me from its opening seconds, with its majestic opening music and journey through the stars to Sagan himself, defining the universe thusly: "The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be..."

In thirteen hour-long episodes, Sagan explained our current scientific understanding of the cosmos, covering astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology and how all these elements impact human history and culture. I devoured both the series and Sagan's companion book, Cosmos, ravenously. Sagan wrote and educated with sublime beauty and passion, inviting viewers and readers to explore the wonders of the cosmos in a manner that was inviting, warm, logical, scientific, even reverent, but never condescending or opaque. I bought the Cosmos DVD set back when it was an expensive limited-edition set available only online, and I have no regrets about paying a premium for the show. Important works deserve our support.

After Cosmos I scooped up The Dragons of Eden and Broca's Brain and eagerly awaited each of Sagan's books in the years to come. My favourite, alongside Cosmos, remains The Demon-Haunted World, one of the best books ever written on the importance of critical thought.

Back in the 90s I wrote book reviews for Singapore's The Peak magazine. Here's an excerpt from one of those reviews, covering Sagan's last book, Billions and Billions. The review's final line remains a pretty good summary of my feelings for Dr. Sagan and his work.

...Finally, on a somewhat somber note, we come to the late Dr. Carl Sagan's final work, Billions and Billions.  The book's subtitle is sadly prophetic - "Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium".  Dr. Sagan, whose contributions to the space program and to science education in general are almost incalculable, died last year of a rare blood disease. Billions and Billions is a worthy capstone to a brilliant career.

As in his previous books, Sagan attempts to lift the dark clouds of superstition and ignorance that continue to hinder humanity's progress towards achieving greatness as a species. Sagan takes a level-headed, rational view towards contentious subjects like abortion, the environment, and nuclear arms proliferation in this book without preaching or seeming arrogant. Especially interesting is the chapter detailing his efforts to unite scientists and religious leaders under one popular front devoted to expressing concern over the damage that we are doing to our precious environment.  That such diverse and often conflicting groups can be united to advance a common cause is reason for hope in what often seems a hopeless world.  The entire book is laced with cautious optimism, even in its closing pages, as Sagan describes his battle with the blood disorder that eventually killed him. For this, the gift of hope, rather than mourning his passing, we should celebrate the fact that such individuals exist all around us, fighting the tyranny of despair and giving us reasons to hope, to dream, to live.  This was Sagan's legacy.  

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Half-Baked Ham

 While finding material for the last couple of posts, I stumbled across this embarrassing gem of a photo from my grade ten yearbook. Kids are supposed to look cool in high school yearbooks, a feat that always eluded me, sadly. I was sure fond of that jacket, though; I had it for years.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Lesson

Earl J. Woods, Jeff Crozier and Jonathan Wright sell school newspapers in 1987.
Before blogs, before even BBSes (barely), there were the high school newspapers. From 1985 to 1987, I contributed to The Forum, the newspaper of Leduc Composite High School; I served as the paper's editor during grades eleven and twelve. As noted in one of the yearbook write-ups below, the 80s were a time of rapid transition in publishing, though nowadays even that rapid change seems glacial in comparison to today's evolving industry.

In 1985, Leduc Senior High School was undergoing a significant renovation on its way to becoming Leduc Composite High School. Because our gymnasium wasn't finished, we held our Valentine's Day dance at the nearby junior high. The dance got a little out of control, with copious alcohol consumption and a couple of fights; the evening came to a close when someone lit a set of curtains on fire, which one intrepid student put out by pouring soda over the flames.

In response, I wrote a self-righteous editorial for the paper's next issue, calling the perpetrators punks, hooligans, etc. I was in high dudgeon, and I painted my fellow classmates with a very, very broad brush. A couple of my fellow students said "You can't write this!" but our supervisor, nodding sagely, said that we should go ahead and print it. At first I thought she agreed with my moralistic position, but as soon as the issue was printed posters and effigies flew up on the school walls, replete with pithy slogans such as "Earl Woods Sucks." I was stunned as only a self-righteous crusader could be. Kirby Fox, one of the school's biggest students, grabbed me by the lapels, lifted me over his head and slammed me into the lockers - not hard enough to hurt me, but hard enough to make his point: he wasn't happy. A few students and teachers supported my editorial, but most of my classmates were pretty annoyed with me.

And they were right. In the days that followed, I got to know a whole bunch of other kids much better, as they took pains to explain why my article was so off-base and, frankly, prejudiced. I felt shame, and I realized why our supervisor had allowed the editorial to go ahead: not to teach other students a lesson, but to teach me the value of prudence, fairness and journalistic integrity. After that incident, I learned to look at all sides of the issues.

Here are the yearbook write-ups I provided in 1986 and 1987. Click to embiggen!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Todd on Vocals

I didn't know Todd Chrunik very well at all; in fact, even now I know him chiefly as "the guy who replaced me as lead singer." But I do remember being a little intimidated by Todd's charisma and talent. The guys made the right choice; Todd had the look, the range and the power to belt out heavy metal lyrics. I only met Todd a few times, and I don't remember hanging out with him, but I do remember that he never failed to be kind and friendly to me on the few occasions we interacted. Todd was a cool guy. I have no idea what happened to him after high school, but I hope he found success and happiness.

By this point the band had changed their name to Kashmir, and it was under that name that they won the Edmonton-area Battle of the Bands in...oh, 1986 or 1987. Like many high school bands, Kashmir dissolved after high school, but for five or six years I was lucky enough to dip my toe into the waters of music.

Yesterday an anonymous commenter asked me to explain the point of posting these memories. If there's any point at all, it's this: many of my memories are pleasant, many are not, especially those formed from experiences in my teens and twenties. But the memories are mine, and I treasure them, and writing about them makes the memories clearer. And should any of my old high school friends stumble upon this blog, I want them to know they were valued, I admired them, and I feel privileged to have known them. There are no insignificant people; there are no insignificant stories. The music of my memories may be ephemeral, but I plan to keep the songs alive as long as I can.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Mark on Lead Guitar

Mark Lede played lead guitar for Sever, Leduc Composite High School's premier heavy metal garage band. While Keith Gylander and I lived in Leduc proper, Bev, Russell and Mark all lived on farms just outside town; they were the bus kids in our little group, though later on they all started driving their own vehicles to school. Mark and I - and Bev, for that matter - were all in the so-called "gifted" program in junior high. During a roleplaying exercise in which each of us had control of a nation, Mark noted that his country and Bev's neighbouring nation shared a river.

"Aha," Mark said, "Give in to my demands or I'll poison your water supply."

Our teacher pointed at the map and noted that Mark's country was downstream from Bev's; Mark's plan would have poisoned his own people. "Rivers don't run that way, Mark," was our teacher's wry comment.

If I remember correctly, Mark was also the group's chief songwriter, penning "Altered Logic." I still remember most of the words:

Ministries of truth
Ministries of love
Ministries of peace
Without a dove!

There is no turning back
Nowhere to hide the fact
Truth reveals to me 
Altered logic! 

There is no privacy no freedom no love...

Well, some of the words, anyway. I haven't seen Mark since the early 90s; sometime in the mid-90s, I spotted a newspaper clipping noting that he'd married and was pursuing a post-graduate degree in philosophy at, I think, McMaster University.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Keith on Rhythm Guitar

Keith Gylander was my next door neighbour in Leduc; he was an outgoing, athletic kid, not really that much like me but we did spend a lot of time together bike riding, tossing around footballs or frisbees or playing with action figures. In fact, one day Keith and I were whipping a frisbee at each other with all our strength when Sean ran between us. Keith's powerful toss slung the frisbee right into Sean's head at exactly the wrong moment, knocking Sean over and splitting the frisbee in half. Poor Sean was okay in the end, but he developed a pretty colourful bruise.

I've told this story before, but shortly before the release of The Empire Strikes Back he and I were playing with our Star Wars action figures. At a dramatic moment on confrontation between Luke, Leia and Darth Vader, I had Darth Vader intone solemnly..."Luke...I AM YOUR FATHER." It blew our minds when, just a few months later, that line was repeated nearly verbatim in the film. (I failed to predict the relationship between Luke and Leia, though.)

Keith played rhythm guitar in Sever, and as an adult he went on to serve at least two terms as one of Beaumont's town councillors. I last saw Keith at his father's funeral a couple of years back, and it's remarkable how little he's changed; I mean that in the most complimentary way.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Russell on Drums

Since I featured Sever's bass player Bev yesterday, I thought I may as well profile all of the band members. Here's Russell Wiesener, our drummer, who replaced original drummer Jason Hewitt when Jason moved away from Leduc. Come to think of it, during the Hewitt era the band was known as Sabotage. So I guess it's kind of a Pete Best/Ringo Starr/Quarrymen/Beatles thing.

Russell was a soft-spoken guy; his mom was one of the secretaries at Leduc Junior High School. I probably met Russell in grade 7 or 8; he wound up dating the vice-principal's daughter, Michelle, for a while. Grade school romance! How fraught with angst and import we were.

Russell was a gifted cartoonist, and he even drew the band members as superheroes at one point. I used to have a small collection of Russell's drawings, but I made the mistake of posting them on my dorm room door in university; they were defaced, and I threw them away. It's too bad - had I saved them and scanned them, I could have repaired the damage with Photoshop. I was particularly fond of the drawing of a giant fist squeezing me to death, with a word bubble screaming "I'LL CRUSH YOU EARL you rotten guy"

I last heard of Russell in the early 90s; I spotted a newspaper clipping indicating that he'd earned a degree, I believe, from the University of Alberta. Belated congratulations, Russell!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Bev on Bass

A couple of years I found out that my old friend from high school, Bev McAmmond, reads this blog from time to time. It seems sort of unfair that I've never written anything about Bev, so here he is, thrashing on bass guitar back in January 1985. Bev was the bassist for Sever, Leduc Composite High School's heavy metal band. For a brief time I sang, but only because no one else was willing; I was replaced in...oh, late grade 11, perhaps. I took it a little hard at the time, but the choice was justified, and the boys went on to win the big Battle of the Bands in Edmonton not long after. I still have about a dozen cassette recordings of our practise sessions; someday I'll digitize them.

One day, walking home from school, Bev called my name and I turned to look at him. He spat a wad of bubble gum right at my face, which mercifully bounced off my front teeth instead of landing in my mouth. I was pretty annoyed at the time, but I have to admit that I find it funny now. Boys have an odd sense of humour.

Last I heard, Bev was a successful lawyer. I hope he's still doing well, and Bev, if you're reading this, I hope you get to wail on the bass from time to time too. The way I remember it, you were pretty good.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Babyface Woods

To raise funds to combat prostate cancer, Sean is participating in Movember. The idea is to shave your facial hair and grow it out through the month of November, raising funds all the while. Sean has shaved his trademark goatee; you can see how he looks without it, above. You can help Sean grow his beard back, and help fight for men's health, by visiting his donation page here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Canada Writes Update

I've finished and submitted my Canada Writes contest entry. My short story is just a couple words short of the maximum length, down from an original count of 2,000. Editing is important!

I surprised myself by ultimately using none of my original ideas, outlined here. In the end I didn't think I could do any of them justice this time around; they need more time and care than I allowed myself.

I'm not terribly pleased with the story I did manage to finish. Oh, it has a beginning, middle and end, and there are a couple of nice sentences, but I'm not happy with the climax, or the characterization, or the dialogue. I'm pleased that I did manage to accidentally weave in a theme.

Writing short stories is a discipline like any other, and the truth is I simply haven't written enough stories to be good at it yet. But I'm exceedingly grateful to Neil Mackie for challenging me to do this. I'll never be a fiction writer unless I work for it, and Neil has forced me to complete a story. At 42, I think this'll be the sixth of seventh I've managed to complete. I'm not going to win the contest, but thanks to Neil I feel like I've accomplished something more important: I've paid a small fraction of my dues.

I can't post the story here without disqualifying myself, but I'll do so once the contest is over. Unless, of course, I win, in which case I'd need to ask CBC for permission to do so. I'm not counting on it.